The planned disbursement of the controversial Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) will not happen any time soon as the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi on Friday accused the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, of frustrating the disbursement of the fund, again dashing the hopes of indigenous shipowners who have been waiting to assess the fund for over 17 years.
The CVFF, which currently stands at over $200million and warehoused in the Treasury Single Accounts (TSA) has become an issue of controversy as past administrations of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) were not able to disburse it.
However, in March, the agency said it had received the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to disburse the fund to qualified indigenous maritime operators in line with the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy and the CVFF Guidelines of 2006.
But speaking with journalists in Lagos at the two-day ministerial retreat for agencies under the Ministry, Ameachi, revealed that despite securing the approval of the President and the Attorney- General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to disburse the fund, the Minister of Finance, protested against the disbursement, saying that the CVFF is a public fund, hence it shouldn’t be disbursed to private operators.
“The President has made an approval, saying go ahead and disburse. The Attorney- General of the Federation said go ahead and disburse as the law says it is private funds. But the Minister of Finance protested that the money is public funds and therefore cannot be spent. So, what do I do?’ I am handicapped,” he said.
Amaechi, however, asked indigenous shipowners, who are owners of the fund, to write a protest letter to the President explaining why the fund is a private fund to enable him present the matter again before the President.
“The owners of money should write to the President and copy me then I will go back to the President. The law says the money is not public funds. The Minister of Finance does not have the right to advise that it is public funds. Now that the owners of the funds are aware, they should write to say ‘we are aware of the approval and we are also aware of the protest by the Minister of Finance. If I have the letter, I will go back to the President,” Ameachi said.
Also speaking, the Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh attributed the delay in the disbursement of the fund to technical hitches, which he said the agency was not party to but assured that efforts are ongoing to resolve them before the funds could be disbursed.
“The Minister said he spent two years to obtain approval from the President for the disbursement of the funds. But later he was made to understand between the Ministry of Finance and NIMASA that approval has been tinkered with.
“There were changes in the approval made and that changes have to do with where the money should be disbursed. NIMASA was not a party to that. The money is presently in the Treasury Single Account and the directive we were given was to disburse the funds from the commercial banks.
“So, when the Minister sought the approval of the President to disburse the funds, the Finance Ministry rejected the option of disbursing the funds through the commercial banks.
“So, the approval came for the second time that we can go ahead and disburse the fund but it must be done from where the money is now, which is the TSA account. But what the Minister was saying is that the guidelines stipulate that the money should be disbursed through the Primary Lending Institution (PLIs) and the CBN is not a PLI because it is not a commercial bank.
“The approval that came in now says we must disburse it through the CBN. So, what we are doing now is to see how we can wriggle ourselves out through the utilization of the TSA, that is, CBN and without tinkering with the existing laws or the guidelines by the National Assembly, which says the funds should come through the commercial banks.
“So, what did we do? We still went ahead, advertised expressions of interest and 11 banks applied. We have picked the 11 banks and sent their names to the Minister. According to the guidelines, the Minister will be the one to select the four PLIs among the 11 banks sent to him.
“In doing so, he has directed me to clear some issues which I have already made clear during my presentation at the retreat. These are the things he wanted me to do and by the time I am finished with the directive, I will revert to him with the answers,” he said.